Riki the Bear

Press Release

Former Roadside Zoo Bear, Ricki, Reunites with Rescuer Whose Lawsuit Freed Her from Concrete Cage

Press Invited to The Wild Animal Sanctuary-Monday, May 6, 2019

Contact: media@aldf.org, 201-679-7088

For 16 years, Ricki, a black bear, lived alone in a bare 250-square-foot cage outside of an ice cream shop in Pennsylvania. Suffering on a concrete floor in this tiny enclosure, Ricky would repetitively pace — a clear sign of her psychological distress from being trapped in these inhumane conditions.

Ricki was also fed a poor diet. For a quarter, visitors could purchase an unhealthy mix of dog food and corn from a gum ball machine to slide down a chute into the chain link fence that kept her confined.

After seeing Ricki in person, veterinarian Ursula Bechert warned the bear was suffering a “slow and torturous decline in physical and mental health” in these conditions.

Kelly Bennett, who lived nearby, saw the misery and harm in Ricki’s situation, too. Bennett was moved by Ricki’s suffering and decided to take action. Having learned about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s work on behalf of another captive bear held in inhumane conditions, Bennett reached out for help.

In 2014, Bennett, three additional plaintiffs, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on Ricki’s behalf — arguing the cruel conditions of Ricki’s captivity violated state regulations requiring the humane care and treatment of wild animals, and also posed a threat to public safety. Bennett and Animal Legal Defense Fund argued that Ricky should be moved to a bona fide sanctuary where her physical and psychological needs could be met.

Faced with these claims, the owner of Jim Mack’s Ice Cream Shop agreed to a settlement in 2015, allowing Ricki to be moved to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. She has been there ever since. Captive animals cannot be released into the wild, but Ricki has the next best thing at the Wild Animal Sanctuary. With 15 acres of rolling grassland to roam, water to swim in and the company of other bears, Ricki is able to hibernate and exhibit natural behaviors. She loves exploring her habitat and swimming.

Bennett, a veterinary technician, has been actively working towards making her planned trip to be reunited with Ricki at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, to witness “Ricki’s paws on grass,” as she says, after a decade and a half on a concrete slab. This emotional moment will happen on May 6, 2019.

“I was horrified when I saw Ricki trapped in her cinderblock cage at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream Shop. As a Pennsylvanian and an animal lover, I could not stand by and do nothing while Ricki suffered. For anyone witnessing animal suffering, I hope you will speak up, too,” says Kelly Bennett. “I’ve been following Ricki on social media constantly since she was moved to the Wild Animal Sanctuary. I cannot wait to finally get to see her in person there, with so much room to live in, and soft grass under her feet.”

Bennett also continues to advocate for animals. She is now participating in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit against another roadside zoo in Pennsylvania, where animals are maintained in squalid conditions in violation of the Endangered Species Act and state animal cruelty laws.

Amanda Welling, Angela Santmier, and Matthew Gulczynski were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit freeing Ricki.

Press are invited to The Wild Animal Sanctuary on Monday, May 6, 2019 from 10am to 12noon see Ricki the bear. Kelly Bennett, Diane Balkin, Senior Staff Attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Pat Craig, the Wild Animal Sanctuary’s executive director, will be available for on-camera interviews at this time. Directions to the facility are available at www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/visit.

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Bears, lions, and other animals languish in roadside zoos across the country. Animals live in cruel conditions, confined to small cages without the enrichment they need to lead full, happy lives. Protect animals by boycotting roadside zoos.

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